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Racing Roundup: Here’s Why People are Angry about Vettel’s Penalty

New Montreal paddock buildings should have been part of a larger complex, and all the racing news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald June 10, 2019
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Okay, let me say this about that.

Most people, it seems, don’t agree with the stewards’ decision Sunday to penalize Sebastian Vettel five seconds for rejoining the racing surface in an unsafe manner after going off at the chicane two turns from the start-finish line.

When I say “most people,” I mean me and just about everybody I’ve talked to about it. A five-second penalty is a monster penalty in F1. It might not seem like much, but it cost Vettel the race and came very close to him losing second place to his teammate, Charles Leclerc. If that had happened, it would have been a way over the top punishment for what took place out on the race track.

We’re not talking about murder here; Vettel came out ahead of Hamilton, where he’d been since the start of the race, and although Lewis seemed to slow slightly and move his car slightly to the right to avoid what he thought might be a collision, they both sure didn’t lift much because they were at full speed again before anybody could blink.

So, where was the infraction that required a five-second penalty as punishment? As noted above, that’s draconian punishment for a relatively minor squabble. Frankly, I don’t think what happened merited a penalty at all. It looked to me (as we say on the short tracks) to be just one of them racin’ deals.

I think the reaction, though, is symptomatic of something bigger that’s going on in the world today. Yes, the world. I think people are sick and tired of arbitrary decisions, of being told what to do and when to do it, particularly when the people doing the ordering around have failed to fully explain the ordering around in the first place.

In order for people to buy into anything, they have to understand what it is and why they should care. Not a lot of that happens any more. It’s do this and do that – or else. And people are rising up against that.

Take this particular racing penalty. The stewards, in explaining their reasoning, cited a rule that made little sense when applied to this case. The ruling stated that the stewards determined that Car 5 left the track at turn 3, rejoined the track at turn 4 in an unsafe manner, and forced Car 44 off track. Car 44 had to take evasive action to avoid a collision, the stewards’ ruling said.

Really? How can anybody be forced off track when there is a wall there. Second, if you call what Hamilton did “evasive action,” that is a stretch because he would not have been able to regain top speed as quickly as he did after he either lifted slightly or tapped the brake (he mentioned doing both in a post-race press conference).

But stewards make arbitrary decisions like that, as do governors and governments, and people say, “What was that? Where did that come from?”

To support anything, people have to understand and then buy into it. So whether it’s sport or politics, there’s a lesson for just about everybody in Sunday’s decision in Montreal.

Okay, as I was in Montreal covering the Grand Prix for the Toronto Star, I don’t have much more to say about the race (please click here for a link to my story). But there are a couple of things I want to get out of the way before plunging into the roundup: Montreal’s new Grand Prix facility and how great and wonderful IndyCar communications are as compared with the FIA (Formula One).

As part of the contract to continue bringing Formula One races to Canada, Montreal agreed several years ago to update the buildings in the paddock, the Paddock Club facility itself and the team garages to the tune of more than $30 million. Until this year, things around the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on Ile Notre-Dame hadn’t changed a whole lot since 1978 when the race was moved there from Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Ontario.

penalize Sebastian Vettel

So the new facilities are lovely (although I must say I miss the intimacy of the old paddock). Here’s the problem. They say they want to use the new buildings for weddings and family gatherings and all sorts of other things to justify the expense of building them because, otherwise, they just spent $35-million+ on garages, et al, that will be used three days a year. I’m not sure how that will work out. This island is in the middle of the St. Lawrence. In winter, it is cold out there. A little closer to the bridges and the subway that bring people and cars over to the island is the Casino, which also seeks to attract weddings and so-on. You can drive right into the casino and park underneath it – something you can’t do with the new Paddock Club.

Now, if this facility had been built as part of a larger complex, then it would have made sense. Which is what I had in mind when I wrote my column for Toronto Star Wheels on Saturday (click here for a link). If you design a circuit for IndyCar, Formula E and Formula One and make the roads, garages and Paddock Club part of a bigger renovation of Ontario Place/Exhibition Place in Toronto, then it becomes part of the larger attraction and the cost can be justified. The new buildings in Montreal will be a thorn in the city’s side for some time.

Okay, enough about that. Meantime . . . .

The world has changed. Once upon a time, the only communicators who needed information lickety-split were the reporters who worked for wire services and had to file their stories and photographs RIGHT NOW. Newspaper and magazine reporters, on the other hand, could take their sweet time, sweating over every word and often rewriting their stories two or three times before being satisfied. That’s why, for instance, the Greatest Golf Writer Who Ever Lived, Dan Jenkins, was able to compose literature for Sports Illustrated about the same tournament as the rewrite man who worked for the AP or UPI or CP and had to churn out just the facts, ma’am, just the facts. Just as fast as his little fingers could type the words, too.

As I say, the world has changed. Now the newspaper reporters are in the same boat as the few remaining wire service guys. If something happens, they have to report on it for websites. Right Now. Which means, in the case of the Grand Prix du Canada in Montreal this weekend,  they don’t have time to go off and sit in press conferences, which can waste valuable time when they could be doing other things, like filing another story, and so they hope a transcript of just what was said will be made available asap.

The IndyCar people have this down to a science. The races end, the interviews take place, the press conferences are held and, bingo, stuff just comes tumbling into your emailbox, often within a half-hour or 45 minutes. You don’t have to go running off after – in the case of Saturday night’s race in Texas – winner Josef Newgarden and, in the meantime, miss out on talking to – say – James Hinchcliffe. Before you know it, IndyCar has provided quotes from both of them – and everybody else in the field. They make it possible for journalists to be in 10 places at once.

Saturday here at the Grand Prix, a press conference featuring Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, which was held after qualifying, wrapped up at about 4 p.m. At 6:30, there was still no transcript and at least one wire service guy I know was going nuts. That is not good enough. This is not the fault, incidentally, of local organizers; it is the fault of Formula One.

Liberty Media, which is in the media business, is supposed to be on top of all this. They are not. I suggest they get in touch with IndyCar and ask for advice on how it should be done. And the sooner, the better.

penalize Sebastian Vettel penalize Sebastian Vettel

Okay, here is the roundup, notes and all.

The mayor of Montreal, Valerie Plante, was in attendance, as was the former mayor, Denis Coderre. Plante is an environmentalist; Coderre was kicked out of office after it became public how much taxpayer money went into paying for the first year of Formula Electric (a.k.a. Formula E). Ironically, Plante cancelled the remaining two years of the Formula E contract, for which the city is being sued, and had to watch as more millions were spent on the far-more-popular (but not quite as green) Formula One facility, which was a project also approved by Coderre. Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!

Sebastian Vettel rode a bicycle to the circuit all three days. Lewis Hamilton rode in a stretch limo. It was hilarious to watch him arrive at the circuit each morning about 9:30: he would use a self-propelled scooter to blast through and past people in the paddock and while he was gliding along, his two great big bodyguards were running just as fast as they could behind him, trying to keep up with him.

Josef Newgarden won the IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night with Alexander Rossi second and Graham Rahal third. Rookie Santino Ferucci was fourth (he does not look anything like his name . . . ) and Ryan Hunter-Reay was fifth. I did not see the race as I was partying it up in Montreal, thanks to Mercedes-Benz Canada, so here is a link to the full story.

Rain forced cancellation of the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup race at Michigan International Speedway until Monday. To make matters worse, the race won’t be started till 5 p.m. because TV will be busy with two Women’s World Cup matches in France before that.  How the mighty have fallen. Once upon a time, NASCAR would have said to the networks: “Tape the soccer and put it on later because we’re going at noon.” Or words to that effect. Now, the race is being held up to accommodate TV and – apparently – the hell with people in the grandstands. It’s bad enough to have tickets and be rained out and then have to take an extra day’s vacation, or whatever, to hang around for the next day. But then the race would be over at 4 or so and you would have plenty of time to drive home and get ready for school and/or work the next day. Now, with the race not starting till 5, you’ll have to drive home at night and you’ll be grumpy at school or work the next day. NASCAR should think about those things.

Meantime, Tyler Reddick won the Xfinity Series race at Michigan. It was his third victory in the last five races. And Greg Biffle – Greg Who? – won the NASCAR trucks race, also at Michigan.

Ben Young topped Sunday’s Mopar Canadian Superbike Championship race at the Grand Bend Motorplex after a race-long battle with Jordan Szoke, who finished ahead of third-place Trevor Daly.

Roman De Angeles of Windsor won both rounds of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama in Montreal. Sam Fellows of Mississauga suffered a broken wrist in Race 2 Sunday. He’d won the Gold Class Saturday in Race 1, driving the No. 35 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche.

In Formula 1600 racing, Olivier Bedard won the first race on Saturday, with Zachary Vanier and Bertrand Godin second and third. Bedard won again Sunday, with Godin second this time and Vanier third.

Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca

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